The story of your life


You probably spend at minimum 40 hours per week at work, if you’re lucky. The average American worker spends 8.8 hours a day at work, more than any other life activity (link). This estimate also does not include time spent worrying about work while you mow the lawn, coming up with good ideas in the shower, and discussing work-related issues with a friend over dinner. Many of us spend many more hours working outside the office – an entire extra work day a week squeezed in at home (link). Like it or not, work is a central focus of most of our lives. And if the quality of our work life suffers, the quality of our entire lives suffer. This means that if you don’t spend your work days wisely – if you just show up day in and day out, year after year – you could end up whiling away an entire life.

We all want to have meaningful, happy lives. We imagine our lives to be dramatic narratives, with ourselves in the lead role. If we act as if work is “just work” and treat our job as “just a job” we are inherently limiting our personal stories to the few hours a day we are not at work. How can we reframe ourselves, our lives, and our work, to create a coherent narrative that contributes meaning and structure to our lives? How can you approach your work in a way that contributes to your action-adventure instead of something separate that you do in order to earn your “real life”?

Know your character. Who are you? What are you good at? What do you value? What is the thing that you are most well known for among friends and colleagues? What are you doing when you are putting off something else, and how can you do more of that? Understanding yourself and what you offer to your work can help you better understand how your work can offer you the meaning you want to build in your life.

And let us not forget that we create meaning through connections with others. Leaders and managers especially have incredible potential to positively influence the quality of life of the people with whom they work. While most managers understand that talking with people about their career path is a valuable part of their coaching and development approach, using these conversations to help people frame their work meaningfully can really ramp up the energy and enthusiasm they bring to their contributions. Help people answer – what is the purpose of your position? What are your unique strengths that you can continue to leverage at work? How does what you do help the rest of us? How does this job fit into your life as a whole?

Business is about profit and loss, the bottom line, moving products, staying on the cutting edge of innovation, building your brand, etc. But, as we have discussed before, research shows that meaning matters too. We are all people working and transacting with other people, and at the core of the human condition is the quest for meaning. Happily, it is not a zero-sum game. We can create success and enjoy profits while cultivating happiness and meaning. In fact, we are more likely to find both kinds of success when we thoughtfully allow them to feed one another.

So – what is your story?